A Year for 100 Books: The Best
In 2018, I have read (or listened to) 100 books. Wow Kelsey! You are amazing! Thank you, I know. It also means that I have watched little to no Netflix or Hulu, am super behind on all of my podcasts, and have listened to the same 10 songs instead of seeking out new music. But because I am incredibly selfless, I did all of this so I could give you high-quality book recommendations (Just kidding, I totally did this just for me; you just happen to be benefitting from it). I made a list of my favorite books that I read this year and found three categories that rose from the list: fiction, non-fiction, and non-fiction narrative/memoir. I’m making those last two categories different because I read a ton of amazing non-fiction this year and I want an excuse to share it with you. And maybe you’re like I used to be and think it’s dull or boring… Start with a memoir or narrative! The plot will suck you right in; and the best part is THE PLOT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.
Let it be known that it was incredibly difficult to choose just fifteen books, which I understand is still excessive. I would be happy to give you more if you need them. You are also more than welcome to be my friend on Goodreads; that way you can see all of my all-time favorites. And if you need a personalized recommendation, I live for that, so hit me up.
Here are my top five picks for fiction that I read this year. These stories’ plots sucked me in and reading the last page always felt like being thrown into the desert after spending extended time in an oasis.
Last year I read A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and wept, so I was excited to read more. Our former school librarians had recommended this one to me years ago, and I bought it, but never picked it up (if you know me, you know I firmly believe there is a perfect time for every book). The story follows a seven-year-old named Elsa dealing with the death of her grandmother, who was an eccentric woman who told Elsa stories of a make-believe world called “The Land-of-Almost-Awake.” As she grieves, Elsa is led on a journey by her grandmother’s instructions to tend to the people who reside in their apartment building, and she quickly realizes that maybe even the best fantasy tales are based on real life. One of the things I love best about Backman’s work is the way he paints realistic relationships, with the deep emotional ties, as well as the conflict that comes with it, and this book is no exception.
Oops, I’m sorry. Is this Fredrik Backman again? Well… I can promise you it’s not the last time you’ll see him in this blog entry… #sorrynotsorry I met Britt-Marie in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, as a peripheral character, but Backman gives her her own adventure in Britt-Marie Was Here. Again, the relationships are to die for, and the gray areas are aplenty. Watching Britt-Marie develop from a rigid person into a compassionate, selfless person gave me hope. After a personal crisis, she relocates to a small run-down village that has one of the most untalented soccer teams, and finds herself continually being drawn to these broken, needy people. Community can turn even the biggest grinch into a matriarch on which the people lean on in times of need. She quickly became one of my favorite of Backman’s characters.
I am really bad at book synopses, especially if it’s to try and convince someone to read a book. I will also tell you that any book synopsis I’ve heard for this book didn’t do it justice. So here’s my best attempt:
MAGIC. LOVE. COMPETITION. ONLY ONE WILL WIN.
Kelsey, this book came out in 1952. I AM AWARE. It’s a classic; how have you never read it?! It was intimidating! But I finally read it because it’s one of my best friend’s favorite books. And man, she was right. Sure, I didn’t zoom through it, but I love those complex characters so much. It takes place in the Salinas Valley, one of Steinbeck’s favorite places in the world, and it follows two families— the Trasks and the Hamiltons— as their stories intertwine and reinvent Genesis. Wait what? YEAH. Read it and let’s talk about allegory. It’s rich and so exciting. Plus, it comes with my favorite quote:
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
Ope, GUESS WHO’S BACK! It’s King Fredrik Backman. Everyone told me this one was so different than Backman’s other books, so I put it off. And they weren’t wrong. It felt darker at parts, and everything was on the line, but it’s still Backman. He painted a realistic community walking through real problems, and showed how it affected all of them. Beartown is a community where hockey is everything, and when someone gets in the way of their chances at semi-finals, all ethics are thrown to the wayside, and the residents must evaluate what they really value most. SO GOOD. And there’s a sequel, which I have not read yet, but am hyping so hard in my head.
I enjoy non-fiction because it feels like learning. I also really enjoying listening to them as audiobooks, because it feels like an educational podcast. Here are my favorites from 2018. These’ll learn you real good.
As Kendrick Lamar once put it, “HUMBLE.” I don’t think that’s what he meant, but that’s sure as heck how I felt after reading this one. As a white Christian woman, this gave me a lot of insight into the perspective of a parallel narrative: Black, Christian, female, middle-class. Austin shares her journey coming into her own identity, and then reconciling it with the world around her. She speaks to organizations who claim to value diversity, but fall short when their words don’t match their actions. Her journey and tale will convict you in a loving way and awaken a passion for making room at the table for more people who don’t look like you.
As an extrovert who was raised in a family of introverts, this book opened my eyes to so much. And it’s interesting how much my family has influenced me, even though I would very much categorize myself as a people person who needs social interaction regularly. Our society does not value introverts the way it should, and most opportunities and experiences are designed by extroverts for other extroverts. As an educator and a Christian, this book helped me evaluate two scenarios (school and church), and how both do such a disservice to our introverts. Eye opening and humbling, again.
Sometimes I put off books I’m really excited to read because I don’t want them to be over. Sometimes I put off books I need to read because I know they are going to wreck me. This book met both criteria. I’ve definitely had it for at least a full calendar year, if not more, and I finally read it this summer. It sent me reeling. I have always struggled with not feeling “good enough” and this book called me on the carpet and gave me perspective I needed to start fresh. I was reevaluating every interaction, every emotion, every thought. Brene, yet again, has changed my life. This is the book that preceded both Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection. Start at the beginning of Brene and work your way through as she develops her research more. You won’t regret it.
This is the type of book I want to write someday. I’ve known it for a while now, but Kameron Hurley, you made me realize it’s possible. This is the reason this blog exists. She gets geek culture. She’s a feminist. She’s a writer. She is goals. Kameron Hurley deserves all the awards for pushing me to move forward on my dreams, and for speaking my thoughts into existence.
Malcolm Gladwell is magic, and if you’ve listened to his podcast or his audiobooks, all of the sudden, anything you read that is even slightly academic is read in his voice in your head. Which is a good thing, by the way. I read ALL of his books in 2018, and I wanted to recommend all of them, but limited it to this one. What makes people “the best”? Obviously the answer differs depending on the person, but Gladwell focuses on this question as he explores the most successful in many fields, and what sets them apart.
I don’t know if non-fiction narrative is a thing, but if it isn’t, it should be. I guess you could call it historical non-fiction, but sometimes it’s so recent that it feels wrong calling it history. Regardless, these books were windows into others’ lives, and painted pictures of adversity I’ve never experienced and explained events I’ve never fully comprehended. It made it all real. So without further ado, here they are.
Okay, so I’m kind of cheating here, but I read these back to back and they paired so perfectly, I have to recommend them as a combination. But please do it in my order. By reading A Mother’s Reckoning first, I was able to understand Dylan Klebold on a different level. It is important to recognize that the two young men involved in Columbine were very different people. Knowing Dylan’s story enhanced Columbine, which was a phenomenal retelling of the tragedy and the aftermath. What I appreciated the most about Columbine was Cullen’s admittance of the media’s mistakes made in the aftermath, and the ownership he took for contributing to the problem. As an educator, Columbine has always been something worth studying for me. And these two books in conjunction opened my eyes to so much that I hadn’t understood as a kid watching the news in 1999.
This book was so good, and I’m not even grieving. I listened to it on audiobook from the library, but I need to own it, because as soon as I experience loss, I’m going to mark the crap out of this book (not that I’m looking forward to it). Sheryl Sandberg recently lost her husband, and her vulnerability and authenticity in this book will be a comfort to many. I would recommend this for everyone— either as something to help you heal through something you are walking through currently, or as something to hold onto until you really need it.
David Grann is one of my favorite writers. He can make some of the most bleh topics fascinating to me. I once read a super long article about a giant squid, just because he wrote it (The ocean terrifies me, by the way). This book was no disappointment. This is how I started my vacation at the cabin, and it sent me into a reading tizzy. The Osage Nation’s reservation in Oklahoma was discovered to be on top of oil in the 1920s, and they became the richest people per capita. But then they started mysteriously dying, and any investigation made resulted in more and more people dying. The whole time I was reading about the conspiracy as it unfurled, I couldn’t help but think HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?! David Grann has done it again.
I’m a HUGE fan of James Comey (irony intended), especially after this book. To pre-2018 Kelsey, he was just a public figure who walked through a tough time, but now I have the utmost respect for him, even when I didn’t like his actions. He led with ethics, and he did the right thing. My lawyer father has vouched for some of his more controversial moves; he was often between a rock and a hard place, and this book details the types of decisions he had to make and the logic and reasoning behind it all. I stan his Twitter so hard now. Also, he’s ridiculously tall. Fun fact.
What the heck was this book?! A girl growing up in the mountains with a intensely Mormon family, BORING. But 60 pages in, and I just couldn’t stop. It turned on a dime for me, and it just enveloped me from that moment forward. With a desire to learn, and in attempts to escape the dysfunction of her home life, Tara Westover pursued education for the first time at the age of seventeen. To hear how she thrived once she had the opportunity, as well as to hear how it fractured her beliefs and her relationships begs the question of what is worth sacrifice, and what is home.
Read them. Tell me what you think. I would say recommend your favorites to me for 2019, but I already have 200+ books in my Want to Read list…